Transcript of "Electronic Communications and Open Meeting Laws"
Electronic Communications and Open Meeting Laws
Ann Taylor Schwing*
Many aspects of the revolution in electronic communications fall into the proverb: The
more things change, the more they stay the same. Electronic communications may be faster and
may make it easier for multiple individuals to communicate, but there are few circumstances in
which electronic communications are fundamentally different or present wholly new issues for
compliance and enforcement in open meetings.
Notice of meetings and providing the agendas can be done electronically with some more
convenience but essentially little practical difference from using the mails or posting at the
meeting location. Physical posting may be more convenient to the homeless and to those lacking
computers, but public libraries typically offer some public access to computers. Physical posting
requires everyone to visit the posting location unless the information is picked up in news media.
Notice of meetings has never been perfect for all citizens/residents, and it isn’t perfect
with electronic communications. One might say, with a crooked smile, it is “good enough for
government work.” The changeover from hand-delivered, mailed or posted notice to electronic
notice through websites and e-mail for some kinds of meetings or meetings under some
circumstances has occurred with relatively few glitches.
some States retained prior forms of notice and added electronic notice on top as an
additional form of notice,1
achieving some duplication but overall much increased
notice to residents. One advantage of this approach is that a technological failure
does not necessarily mean that the meeting cannot proceed,2
A disadvantage is that
Ann is of counsel at Best Best & Krieger LLP in Sacramento, California (www.bbklaw.com/) and
author of Open Meeting Laws 3d (2011) (www.openmeetinglaws.com/), California Affirmative Defenses
(published annually by West) and other books. Ann is also a Commissioner and Secretary of the Land
Trust Accreditation Commission (www.landtrustaccreditation.org/), a master and member of the
governing board of the Anthony M. Kennedy Inn of Court, and a member of the board of directors for
Scribes, the American Society of Legal Writers.
E.g., Ky.Op.Atty.Gen. 98-OMD-119 (July 27, 1998) (posting on public body’s website alone is
insufficient when statute requires posting at meeting place or other physical location); Nev.Rev.Stat.
§241.020(4) (2013) (website notice is only supplemental and cannot substitute for minimum public notice
required); N.J.Stat. §10:4-9.2 (2013) (permission to give electronic notice through Internet does not affect
or supersede existing adequate notice requirements under prior law, and “no electronic notice issued
pursuant to this act shall be deemed to substitute for, or be considered in lieu of, such adequate notice”);
N.Y.Pub.Off.Law §104(5) (2013) (“When a public body has the ability to do so, notice of the time and
place of a meeting given in accordance with [existing requirements], shall also be conspicuously posted
on the public body’s internet website.”); Tex.Gov.Code §551.043(b) (2013) (Internet posting in addition
to physical posting); UtahCode §52-4-202(3), (4) (2013) (amended in 1998 to encourage public bodies to
develop and use electronic means to post notice in addition to other means required by the law).
E.g., Ariz.Rev.Stat. §38-431.02(A) (2013) (“A technological problem or failure that either prevents the
posting of public notices on a website or that temporarily or permanently prevents the usage of all or part
no saving in expense or convenience is gained;
members of public bodies may request notice of special meetings by electronic mail
or facsimile instead of written notice, speeding transmission and making modest
recognizing that many residents get notice primarily from the news media, some
States provide for notice and agendas to be e-mailed to the news media;4
as not all public bodies have their own websites, provisions for use of Internet notice
of meetings may be (i) optional,5
(ii) applied to state bodies but not mandatory for
(iii) applied only to public bodies that have websites7
or (iv) established
to require posting on an alternative site;8
of the website does not preclude the holding of the meeting for which the notice was posted if the public
body complies with all other public notice requirements required by this section.”); Ill.Comp.Stat. ch. 5,
§120/2.02(b) (2013) (“The failure of a public body to post on its website notice of any meeting or the
agenda of any meeting shall not invalidate any meeting or any actions taken at a meeting.”);
Nev.Rev.Stat. §241.020(4) (2013) (a public body that maintains a website on the Internet “shall post
notice of each of its meetings on its website unless the public body is unable to do so because of technical
problems relating to the operation or maintenance of its website.” Inability to post notice as a result of
technical website problems shall not be a violation); Argyle Independent School District v. Wolf, 234
S.W.3d 229, 248-49 (Tex.App. 2007) (perfection in use of Internet posting is not required, so unintended
bad links or other posting errors will not alone invalidate the meeting); see Terrell v. Pampa Independent
School District, 345 S.W.3d 641 (Tex.App. 2011).
Va.Code §15.2-1418 (2013).
E.g., Ind.Code §5-14-1.5-5(b) (2013) (electronic mail delivery of notices of meetings to news media as
an alternative to mail or facsimile); Ky.Rev.Stat. §61.823(4)(b) (2013) (notice of special and emergency
meetings given by e-mail to members of public body and media that have requested notice of meetings).
Mass.Gen.Laws ch. 30A, §20(c) (2013) (website posting is optional in addition to other forms of notice
for local and regional bodies and required for statewide bodies).
Va.Code §2.2-3707(C) (2013) (in addition to other notice, state public bodies must post notice of their
meetings at least three working days prior to meetings on their websites and on Commonwealth Calendar,
an electronic calendar maintained by the Virginia Information Technologies Agency. Other public bodies
are encouraged but not required to publish meeting notices electronically).
Conn.Gen.Stat. §1-225(b) (2013) (public agencies shall post their schedule of regular meetings on their
websites, if available); Ill.Comp.Stat. ch. 5, §120/2.02(a) (2013) (a public body that has a website
maintained by its full-time staff shall post the agenda of any regular meetings of the governing body on its
website and keep it posted until regular meeting is concluded); N.H.Rev.Stat. §91-A:2(II) (2013)
(meeting notices must be posted in two appropriate places, one of which may be public body’s Internet
website, if one exists); Tex.Gov.Code §551.056 (2013).
E.g., Ariz.Rev.Stat. §38-431.02(A)(4) (2013) (public bodies shall “[c]onspicuously post a statement on
their website or on a website of an association of cities and towns stating where all public notices of their
public bodies cannot switch back and forth from using website notice to another form
of notice when that would leave the public uncertain where to find notice.9
some States established how long the notice and agenda must remain posted on the
while others were less precise leading to problems. For example, a 2009
lawsuit charged that a New York city’s website was “updated regularly, but on an ad
hoc basis, i.e. taking the time to advise of a ‘tree lighting ceremony’, or innocuous
meeting, but neglecting to post meeting information on hot button issues like the
The court found petitioner lacked standing but still rejected the city’s view
that it need only update its website as time permits:
The intent and purpose of the statute does not indicate immediate compliance
is necessary. However, the purpose of the statute is not served if, as
respondents argued, the “[i]nstitutions and organizations charged with the
responsibility of serving the general public” were permitted to pick and
choose how and when websites were updated. As indicated by the Court on
the record, such discretionary postings open a pandora’s box of slippery
slope possibilities where an institution or organization entrusted with serving
the public could post notices that only served its agenda. Such discretionary
postings would fly in the face of the transparency and openness that the Open
Meetings Laws were designed to ensure.
meetings will be posted, including the physical and electronic locations” and “[p]ost all public meeting
notices on their website or on a website of an association of cities and towns and give additional public
notice as is reasonable and practicable as to all meetings”); Del.Code tit. 29, §10004(e)(4) (2013) (all
public bodies in state executive branch subject to open meeting law shall post meeting notices
electronically to the Delaware website approved by Secretary of State. “In addition, for all noncounty and
nonmunicipal public bodies, public notice required by this subsection shall include, but not be limited to,
electronic posting on a designated State of Delaware website, approved by the Registrar of Regulations by
May 1, 2013, which shall be accessible to the public.”); Ind.Code §5-14-1.5-5(b) (2013) (state agencies
must provide electronic access to notice through the computer gateway administered by office of
technology); Tex.Gov.Code §§551.044(a), 551.048, 551.053(b) (2013) (secretary of state must post
Internet notice of a meeting of a state board, commission, department, or officer having statewide
jurisdiction and certain regional public bodies for at least seven days before meeting day).
An issue arose in Maryland where the law provided that, if the public body had given public notice that
website notice will be used, notice may be given “by posting the notice on an Internet website ordinarily
used by the public body to provide information to the public.” Md.Code State Gov. §10-506(c)(3) (2013).
The Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board recommended an amendment to require website posting
if the public body has a website, noting that public bodies normally using website posting could post
notice of a particular meeting on a bulletin board and still technically comply with the law. “Of course,
notice in this manner would be meaningless to a member of the public accustomed to relying on the
website.” Maryland Open Government Eighteenth Annual Report (Oct. 2010), at
http://www.oag.state.md.us/Opengov/Openmeetings/index.htm (visited July 22, 2013).
Ill.Comp.Stat. ch. 5, §120/2.02(b) (2013) (“Any notice of an annual schedule of meetings shall remain
on the website until a new public notice of the schedule of regular meetings is approved.”).
Matter of Rivers v. Young, 26 Misc.3d 946, 951, 892 N.Y.S.2d 747, 751 (2009).
Black’s Law Dictionary defines “ability” as “[t]he capacity to perform an
act or service; esp., the power to carry out a legal act.” Unquestionably,
the respondents have the ability to update its website regularly. While to
update same regularly may be inconvenient, inconvenience should not
excuse failure to comply with statutory mandates. Accordingly,
respondents should require its agencies to comply with internet posting
mandates of the Open Meeting Laws in as timely a manner, and as
consistently, as possible.12
Preregistration resulting in automatic e-mail notice of meetings is a very effective
mechanism of communicating with those who self-identify their interest in activities
of the public body. Notice limited to those who preregister cannot be the only notice.
Anyone who did not know to preregister, or who chose not to preregister, is
effectively deprived of notice of meetings in violation of the law.13
Troubling issues remain as to compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act,
the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and state laws requiring accessibility to those
How many public bodies actually do comply with these laws as to
all forms of disability and needs for accommodation. A website may comply fully for
visually impaired who can increase font size but be insufficient for the blind.
Another issue is individuals who are homeless or lack computer access for other
reasons such as poverty. The Texas secretary of state, for example, must post Internet
notices of meetings of state and regional public bodies and provide a convenient
computer terminal in the secretary of state’s office during regular office hours for
public use to view notices.15
This works for people in the immediate area, but not for
those elsewhere in Texas. Some communities offer computers in their libraries.
Others do not. What level of access is required and how convenient must it be?
The requirement for public meetings by public bodies varies significantly depending on
the State’s definition of terms like “deliberations” and “meeting.” States vary widely.
Iowa defines a “meeting” as “a gathering in person or by electronic means, formal or
informal, of a majority of the members of a governmental body where there is deliberation or
Matter of Rivers v. Young, 26 Misc.3d 946, 952-53, 892 N.Y.S.2d 747, 752 (2009).
.Coastal & Watershed Resources Advisory Committee, 7 Md. Compliance Board Opinions 18 (Mar. 9,
Massachusetts Attorney General, Open Meeting Law Guide 5 (Mar. 24, 2011), at
guide.html (visited July 22, 2013) (warning public bodies of need for compliance)
Tex.Gov.Code §§551.044(a), 551.048, 551.053(b) (2013).
action upon any matter within the scope of the governmental body’s policy-making duties.”16
Massachusetts defines “deliberation” as “an oral or written communication through any
medium, including electronic mail, between or among a quorum of a public body on any public
business within its jurisdiction” but excludes “distribution of a meeting agenda, scheduling
information or distribution of other procedural meeting or the distribution of reports or documents
that may be discussed at a meeting, provided that no opinion of a member is expressed.”17
In Nevada, “deliberation includes the mere attendance at a meeting resulting in the receipt
Missouri defines a “public meeting” as “any meeting of a public governmental body
subject to [the open meeting act] at which any public business is discussed, decided, or public
policy formulated, whether such meeting is conducted in person or by means of communication
equipment, including, but not limited to, conference call, video conference, Internet chat, or
Internet message board.”19
A variety of other States have similar provisions.20
IowaCode §21.2(2) (2013); Mason v. Vision Iowa Board, 700 N.W.2d 349, 354 (Iowa 2005) (“‘policy-
making’ is more than recommending or advising what should be done. ‘Policy-making’ is deciding with
authority a course of action.”); Donahue v. State of Iowa, 474 N.W.2d 537, 539 (Iowa 1991).
Mass.Gen.Laws ch. 30A, §18 (2013); see Mass.Gen.Laws former ch. 30A, §11A, ch. 34, §9F, ch. 39,
§23A (“a verbal exchange between a quorum of members of a governmental body attempting to arrive at
a decision on any public business within its jurisdiction”), construed in District Attorney v. School
Committee of Wayland, 455 Mass. 561, 571-72 & n.7, 918 N.E.2d 796, 803-04 & n.7 (2009) (members
of a public body cannot escape open meeting requirements by writing their exchange; violation occurred
when members began “deliberations regarding this topic in private via e-mail, prior to the commencement
of an open meeting”; “school committee is required to release each member’s written comments and
make them available to the public”); accord, IdahoCode §67-2341(2) (2013) (“‘Deliberation’ means the
receipt or exchange of information or opinion relating to a decision, but shall not include informal or
impromptu discussions of a general nature which do not specifically relate to a matter then pending before
the public agency for decision.”); Ind.Code §5-14-1.5-2(i) (2013) (“‘Deliberate’ means a discussion
which may reasonably be expected to result in official action.”).
Nev.Op.Atty.Gen. 2001-05 (Mar. 14, 2001), citing State ex rel. Badke v. Village Board, 173 Wis.2d
553, 572, 494 N.W.2d 408, 415 (1993) (“Listening and exposing itself to facts, arguments and statements
constitutes a crucial part of a governmental body’s decisionmaking.”), and McComas v. Board of
Education, 197 W.Va. 188, 199, 475 S.E.2d 280, 291 (1996); see Idaho Attorney General, Idaho Open
Meeting Law Manual 12 (Nov. 2011), at http://www.ag.idaho.gov/publications/legalManuals/
OpenMeeting.pdf (visited July 22, 2013) (“Even the receipt of information relating to a ‘decision’— i.e.,
a measure on which the governing body will have to vote — amounts to deliberation, and therefore
triggers the definition and requirements of a ‘meeting’ under the Open Meeting Law.”).
Mo.Stat. §610.010(5) (2013).
Ill.Comp.Stat. ch. 5, §§120/1, 120/1.02 (2013) (intent of law is that deliberations of public bodies be
conducted openly; a meeting is a gathering of a majority of a quorum for the purpose of discussing public
business); Me.Rev.Stat. tit. 1, §§401, 405(6) (2013) (public policy that deliberations of public bodies be
conducted openly, and deliberations “on only the following matters may be conducted during an
New Hampshire defines a “meeting” as “the convening of a quorum of the membership
of a public body,” or a majority of its members if a quorum is more than a majority, “whether in
person, by means of telephone or electronic communication, or in any other manner such that all
participating members are able to communicate with each other contemporaneously,” to discuss
or act upon a matter over which the public body has supervision, control, jurisdiction, or
Telephonic participation in public meetings became possible and relatively popular
enough in advance of electronic access and participation in meetings to allow enactment of
provisions for telephonic or videoconference meetings that could largely resolve the issues with
electronic meetings. There is little difference between telephonic participation in a meeting
using a speaker and use of Skype or similar computer options by one or two members.
Nevertheless, there was already substantial variation with respect to telephonic or
videoconference meetings, and the variations only increased.
Public bodies have a collegial character that is inconsistent with any form of telephonic
or electronic communication. Historical requirements that members attend meetings in person
gave rise to prohibitions on some or all use of the telephone to conduct meetings, even if
speakers or other devices would permit the public to hear the discussion in full. Following
general availability of telephones, a number of States enacted express provisions permitting use
of telephones in meetings of boards of directors of private corporations following court decisions
that such meetings were prohibited as contrary to the collegial character of boards of directors.
The same transition occurred for public bodies in many States, especially those with statewide
jurisdiction. Authorization for telephonic, videoconference or electronic meetings is especially
helpful for state public bodies that draw their membership from a number of communities within
the State; attendance at such meetings is a particular burden for members who must travel a
significant distance. Authorization may also be significant for public bodies that are subject to
requirements for a vote of a majority of the total members, rather than members present, or for a
super-majority vote on particular issues.
Today, only a few States completely prohibit telephonic meetings. States that mandate
physical presence necessarily prohibit telephone and videoconference meetings. The 2005
Alabama law has been interpreted to preclude the holding of a meeting or a member’s attendance
at a meeting via telephone conference and to require members to be physically present to be
executive session”); N.C.Gen.Stat. §143-318.10(d) (2013) (an official meeting is a gathering “for the
purpose of conducting hearings, participating in deliberations, or voting upon or otherwise transacting the
public business within the jurisdiction, real or apparent, of the public body”); S.C.Code §30-4-20 (2013)
(meeting is convening of quorum to discuss or act upon matter); Tex.Gov.Code §551.001(4) (2013) (“a
deliberation . . . during which public business or public policy over which the governmental body has
supervision or control is discussed or considered, or during which the governmental body takes formal
action”), construed in Tex.Op.Atty.Gen. 95-055 (Aug. 30, 1995); Tex.Gov.Code §551.102 (2013) (“A
final action, decision, or vote on any matter deliberated in a closed meeting under this chapter may only
be made in an open meeting that is held in compliance with the notice provisions of this chapter.”).
N.H.Rev.Stat. §91-A:2(I) (2013).
counted toward a quorum.22
Ohio requires that a member of the public body must be present in
person to be counted in determining whether a quorum is present and to be counted in voting.23
Hawaii permits videoconference meetings but not telephonic meetings of state and county public
Oklahoma is similar.25
The Executive Director of the New York Committee on Open Government ruled that
public bodies may not conduct open meetings by conference call because doing so limits the
public’s ability to observe deliberations.26
New York’s Attorney General noted that the collegial
character of multi-person public bodies requires members to convene at a meeting with a quorum
present and deliberate as a collective body but physical presence is not required if deliberations
and decisions are done by the body as a whole; as a result, telephone conference calls may be
used in lieu of in-person meetings when the open meeting requirements do not apply.27
A few States permit use of telephone or video equipment to link the public to the public
meeting while requiring members of the public body to meet in person and members of the
Auburn University v. Advertiser Co., 867 So.2d 293, 301 (Ala. 2003) (“attendance of a quorum is a
condition precedent to everything. Until then there is an absolute incapacity to consider or act in any way
upon any matter”); Ala.Op.Atty.Gen. 2006-071 (Mar. 21, 2006); Ala.Op.Atty.Gen. 2004-072 (Feb. 13,
2004) (same for videoconferencing); Ala.Op.Atty.Gen. 236-50 (July 19, 1994) (prior law: “a member of a
governing board or body cannot be counted present and his vote cannot be counted in order to constitute a
quorum by use of a speakerphone or telephone”), following Penton v. Brown-Crummer Inv. Co., 222 Ala.
155, 131 So. 14, 16, 18 (1930). But see Ala.Op.Atty.Gen. 2006-130 (Aug. 16, 2006) (Alabama State Port
Authority has specific statutory exception from general rule prohibiting telephonic attendance).
OhioRev.Code §121.22(C) (2013); see OhioOp.Atty.Gen. 2009-034 (Sept. 15, 2009); accord,
Tex.Op.Atty.Gen. 94-031 (Mar. 24, 1994) (“the committee member who participated by telephone may
not be considered to have been present at the meeting and his vote may not be counted”).
Hawaii Office of Information Practices, Guide to “The Sunshine Law” for State and County Boards 8-9
(June 2011), at http://www.state.hi.us/oip/sunshinelaw.html (visited July 22, 2013).
Okla.Op.Atty.Gen. 82-7 (Jan. 20, 1982), construing Okla.Stat. tit. 25, former §304(2) (“‘Meeting’
means the conducting of business of a public body by a majority of its members being personally
together.”). Section 304(2) was amended in 2010 to add concluding words “or, as authorized by Section
307.1 of this title, together pursuant to a videoconference.” Okla.Stat. tit. 25, §304(2) (2013). Each
member must be visible and audible to each other and to the public. Okla.Stat. tit. 25, §§306, 307.1(A)
(2013). Executive sessions by teleconference are forbidden. Okla.Stat. tit. 25, §§306, 307.1(B) (2013).
N.Y. Open Gov’t Committee Advisory Opinion No. 687 (Oct. 6, 1981).
N.Y.Op.Atty.Gen. 95-F6 (Aug. 14, 1995) (“a member of a public body can only cast a vote if the
member is physically present at the meeting of the body”); N.Y.Op.Atty.Gen. 92-F6 (Aug. 4, 1992); see
Thomas v. New York Temporary State Comm’n on Regulation of Lobbying, 83 App.Div.2d 723, 442
N.Y.S.2d 632, 634 (1981), aff’d, 56 N.Y.2d 656, 451 N.Y.S.2d 708, 436 N.E.2d 1310 (1982) (assuming,
arguendo, that law applied to telephone votes; telephone vote not designed to circumvent law is valid).
public to appear in person before the body.28
This approach maximizes public attendance and, if
permitted, public participation while retaining the traditional meeting format for the public body.
Open meeting statutes may use the term “electronic communications,” presenting
opportunities for confusion as some States use the term to include telephonic and video or audio
teleconferencing, and perhaps other and newer forms of electronic communications, while other
States deem telephonic communications to be separate from electronic communications.29
Special details may be required. Missouri requires, in addition to other notice, “if the
meeting will be conducted by telephone or other electronic means, the notice of the meeting shall
identify the mode by which the meeting will be conducted and the designated location where the
public may observe and attend the meeting. If a public body plans to meet by Internet chat,
Internet message board, or other computer link, it shall post a notice of the meeting on its web
site in addition to its principal office and shall notify the public how to access that meeting.”30
Some States require minutes of electronic meetings to identify (i) members of the public
body at each remote location specified in the notice who participated electronically, (ii) members
who were physically assembled at the primary or central meeting location, and (iii) members
Hawaii Office of Information Practices, Guide to “The Sunshine Law” for State and County Boards 9
(June 2011), at http://www.state.hi.us/oip/sunshinelaw.html (visited July 22, 2013); Okla.Op.Atty.Gen.
81-142 (Nov. 30, 1981). Nebraska provides: “A public body may allow a member of the public or any
other witness other than a member of the public body to appear before the public body by means of video
or telecommunications equipment.” Neb.Rev.Stat. §84-1411(6) (2013). Nevertheless, other parts of the
open meeting law are clear that video- and tele-conferencing are permitted in stated circumstances. E.g.,
Neb.Rev.Stat. §84-1411(2) (2013) (multiple state and some regional bodies may use videoconferencing;
the Judicial Resources Commission may use telephone conferencing for up to half of its meetings under
stated circumstances); Neb.Rev.Stat. §84-1411(3) (2013) (various other entities may use teleconferencing
under stated circumstances); Wyoming Attorney General, The Open Meetings Act: A Summary (July 1,
2005), at http://attorneygeneral.state.wy.us/OpenMeetingsAct2005.pdf (visited July 22, 2013) (“the Act
applies to telephonic and video conferences where a quorum of members of a governing board of an
agency gather together by telephone communication or videoconference to participate in agency business
covered by the Act”).
R.I.Op.Atty.Gen. ADV OM 04-08 (Dec. 3, 2004) (“for purposes of the OMA, we do not believe that
telephonic communication is a means of ‘electronic communication.’ ‘Electronic’ is defined as ‘of or
relating to electrons; of, relating to, or utilizing devices constructed or working by the methods or
principles of electronics; generating musical tones by electronic means; of, relating to, or being music that
consists of sounds electronically generated or modified; or of, relating to, or being a medium (as
television) transmitted electronically.’ Merriam-Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary 401 (9th ed.
1988). More recently, ‘electronic’ has also been defined as ‘implemented on or by means of a computer.’
Merriam-Webster Online (2004). Further, a search of the Rhode Island General Laws reveals a pattern in
which references to ‘electronic,’ or ‘electronic communications’ are separate from references to
‘telephonic,’ or ‘telephonic communications.’”).
Mo.Stat. §610.020(1) (2013).
who monitored the meeting by electronic communications means from another location.31
Some statutes expressly permit telephonic or videoconference meetings when the
discussion is broadcast so that the public may hear it and all other open meeting act requirements
are satisfied. States that generally permit telephonic or videoconference meetings in their open
meeting laws are Alaska,32
E.g., Va.Code §2.2-3707(I) (2013).
Alas.Stat. §44.62.310(a) (2011) (“Attendance and participation at meetings by members of the public
or by members of a governmental body may be by teleconferencing. Agency materials that are to be
considered at the meeting shall be made available at teleconference locations if practicable. . . . The vote
at a meeting held by teleconference shall be taken by roll call.”); Alas.Stat. §44.62.312(a)(6) (2011) (“use
of teleconferencing under this chapter is for the convenience of the parties, the public, and the
governmental units conducting the meetings”); Alas.Op.Atty.Gen. 1995-317 (Aug. 21, 1995);
Alas.Op.Atty.Gen. 1994-367 (Nov. 30, 1994).
Colo.Rev.Stat. §24-6-402(1)(b), (2)(d)(III) (2013) (“‘Meeting’ means any kind of gathering, convened
to discuss public business, in person, by telephone, electronically, or by other means of communication.”
“If elected officials use electronic mail to discuss pending legislation or other public business among
themselves, the electronic mail shall be subject to the requirements of this section. Electronic mail
communication among elected officials that does not relate to pending legislation or other public business
shall not be considered a ‘meeting’ within the meaning of this section.”), abrogating Colo.Op.Atty.Gen.
(Mar. 14, 1986) (approving use of telephone conference calls for adjudicatory administrative hearings but
observing that use of telephone calls for meetings would violate purpose and spirit of open meeting law).
Haw.Rev.Stat. §92-3.5 (2013) (meetings using interactive conference technology: notice must identify
all locations at which board members will be physically present and public may attend at any location).
Kan.Stat. §75-4317a (2013) (“‘meeting’ means any gathering or assembly in person or through the use
of a telephone or any other medium for interactive communication by a majority of the membership of a
body or agency subject to this act for the purpose of discussing the business or affairs of the body or
agency”), abrogating State v. Board of County Comm’rs, 254 Kan. 446, 449, 866 P.2d 1024, 1026
(1994) (“Inherent in the ordinary meaning of ‘gathering’ or ‘assembly’ is the requirement that persons at a
gathering or assembly are in the physical presence of each other.” At 1027: “ ‘meeting’ requires the
gathering or assembly of persons in the physical presence of each other”); see Kan.Op.Atty.Gen. 2005-3
(Jan. 27, 2005).
Ky.Rev.Stat. §61.826 (2013) (videoconference permitted for any meeting other than executive session),
abrogating Ky.Op.Atty.Gen. 92-151 (Nov. 2, 1992) (there is no statutory authority for use of a telephone
conference call even if open to the public with speaker system).
Minn.Stat. §13D.02 (2013) (at least one member present at regular meeting location); see Moberg v.
Independent School District, 336 N.W.2d 510, 517-18 (Minn. 1983) (open meeting law does not apply to
letters or telephone conversations between fewer than quorum).
Mo.Stat. §610.010(5) (2013) (meeting may occur “whether such meeting is conducted in person or by
means of communication equipment, including, but not limited to, conference call, video conference,
Internet chat, or Internet message board.”).
Mont.Code §2-3-202 (2013) (a meeting may be “corporeal or by means of electronic equipment”).
Nev.Rev.Stat. §241.030(6) (2013) (“electronic communication, must not be used to circumvent the
spirit or letter of this chapter in order to discuss or act upon a matter over which the public body has
supervision, control, jurisdiction or advisory powers”); Del Papa v. Board of Regents, 114 Nev. 388, 956
P.2d 770, 776-80 (1998); Nev.Op.Atty.Gen. 85-19 (Dec. 17, 1985) (lawful meeting may be conducted by
N.J.Stat. §10:4-8(b) (2013) (“meeting” is “any gathering whether corporeal or by means of
N.C.Gen.Stat. §143-318.13(a) (2013) (conference telephone meetings permitted if location and means
for members of public to listen are provided; up to $25 may be charged per listener to defray costs).
N.D.Cent.Code §§44-04-17.1(9)(a), 44-04-19(4) (2013) (permitting meetings “whether in person or
through electronic means such as telephone or videoconference”); North Dakota Attorney General, North
Dakota Open Meetings Manual (Jan. 2013), at
http://www.ag.state.nd.us/Manuals/OROMManuals/2013OpenMeetingsManual.pdf (visited July 22,
Okla.Stat. tit. 25, §§306, 307.1(A) (2013) (permitting videoconference meetings by public bodies when
each member of the body is visible and audible to each other and to the public).
Oregon requires that the governing body shall make available to the public at least one place where the
public can listen to communications with the absent member. Ore.Rev.Stat. §192.670(2) (2013) (“The
place provided may be a place where no member of the governing body of the public body is present.”).
R.I.Gen.Laws §42-46-5(b) (2013) (“No meeting of members of a public body or use of electronic
communication, including telephonic communication and telephone conferencing, shall be used to
circumvent the spirit or requirements of this chapter; provided, however, these meetings and discussions
are not prohibited.”).
S.D.Codified Laws §§1-25-1, 1-25-1.2 (2013) (“Any official meeting may be conducted by
teleconference [by audio or video medium]. A member is deemed present if the member answers present
to the roll call conducted by teleconference for the purpose of determining a quorum. Each vote at an
official meeting held by teleconference shall be taken by roll call.”), abrogating S.D.Op.Atty.Gen. 88-35
(Sept. 1, 1988) (members appearing by teleconference are not present, leading to amendment of statute).
UtahCode §§52-4-103(3), (5), 52-4-207 (2013) (a meeting is the convening of a public body “whether
the meeting is held in person or by means of electronic communications”). The Utah Attorney General
ruled that one or more members of a public body may lawfully use telephone conference calls or other
electronic equipment to meet, deliberate and take action if notice requirements and other open meeting
requirements are satisfied. UtahOp.Atty.Gen. 83-14 (Mar. 30, 1983); UtahOp.Atty.Gen. 79-210 (Aug. 1,
1979). In 1997, Utah enacted a detailed provision setting out the requirements for electronic meetings
conducted by telephonic, telecommunications or computer conference. UtahCode §52-4-207 (2013).
Vt.Stat. tit. 1, §312(a) (2013) (“A meeting may be conducted by audio conference or other electronic
means, as long as the provisions of this subchapter are met.”). Vermont amended its law to permit such
meetings after a court decision finding telephone meetings improper. State v. Vermont Emergency
Massachusetts, the 2010 law authorizes the Attorney General to permit remote participation by
regulation, and regulations have recently been adopted, requiring each specific public body to
adopt the practice individually.50
These States may impose specific additional notice or agenda requirements or other
requirements to ensure public access. These provisions make an accommodation between the
preference for meetings in person and recognition that certain public bodies, especially those
operating on a statewide basis, may have difficulty convening in person. An implication that can
be drawn from specific limited grants of power that general use of electronic communications,
even with notice and public ability to listen, is likely to be forbidden in these States. Thus,
California permits public bodies to use video or audio teleconferencing for all purposes, with
voting done by roll call, but the public body must post agendas at all teleconference locations,
which must be open to public and identified in the notice and agenda; the agenda must provide
an opportunity for members of public to address public body at each teleconference location; and
local public bodies must adopt reasonable regulations to protect statutory and constitutional
rights of parties and public appearing before public body.51
Delaware defines video-conferencing as “any system permitting interaction among all
participants in 2 or more noticed public locations in compliance”52
and provides for video-
conferencing under specific circumstances:
Unless otherwise prohibited by law, any public body subject to the provisions of this
chapter, except for any public body in which members are elected by the public to
serve on the public body, may conduct a meeting by means of video-conferencing,
provided each attending member’s participation occurs at a noticed public location
where members of the public may also attend the meeting. The participation of a
member of such public body by video-conferencing in compliance with this section
Board, 136 Vt. 506, 394 A.2d 1360, 1361 (1978) (“We are directed to no authority, by either party,
dealing with the subject of attendance at a ‘meeting’ through the medium of a telephone conference
call. . . . Questions of identity of a claimed participant could easily arise. The personal contact that is so
often an effective ingredient of a meeting is absent.”), legislatively abrogated by Vt.Stat. tit. 1, §312(a)
Mass.Gen.Laws ch. 30A, §18 (2013) (defining “deliberation” as “an oral or written communication
through any medium, including electronic mail, between or among a quorum of a public body on any
public business within its jurisdiction”), abrogating Mass.Gen.Laws former ch. 30A, §11A, ch. 34, §9F,
ch. 39, §23A (meeting is “any corporeal convening and deliberation”); see Massachusetts Attorney
General, Regulations 940 CMR 29.10 (2013); Massachusetts Attorney General, Open Meeting Law
Guide 10 (Mar. 24, 2011), at http://www.Mass.gov/ago/government-resources/open-meeting-
law/attorney-generals-open-meeting-law-guide.html (visited July 22, 2013) (“The Attorney General is
authorized under the Open Meeting Law to permit remote participation by members of a public body not
present at the meeting location. This issue is under consideration by the AGO. While the issue is under
consideration, remote participation by members of public bodies is not permitted under the Open Meeting
Cal.Gov.Code §§11123(b), 54953(b) (2013).
Del.Code tit. 29, §10002(i) (2013).
shall be deemed attendance for all purposes, including purposes of establishing a
quorum. When video conferencing is used, at least 1 of the noticed public locations
shall be within the geographic jurisdiction of that public body. Meetings may
otherwise be noticed for multiple public locations within the state where video-
conferencing is available. During meetings where video-conferencing is used, each
member must be identified, all participants shall be able to communicate with each
other at the same time, and members of the public attending at the noticed public
location or locations of the meeting must be able to hear and view the communication
among all members of the public body participating by video-conference. Video-
conferencing participation is not permitted when a verbatim transcript of the meeting
may be required by law, except for public hearings on proposed rules and regulations,
or where the chair or presiding officer determines that physical attendance is required
at a single location.53
Oklahoma defines a “videoconference” as “a conference among members of a public
body remote from one another who are linked by interactive telecommunication devices
permitting both visual and auditory communication between and among members of the public
body and members of the public.”54
Still other States approved use of electronic communications by court or attorney general
opinions. The Arizona Attorney General ruled that use of electronic communications that permit
the public to see and hear the participation of the absent member was permitted under the open
meeting law without express statutory authorization. The Arizona Attorney General stressed,
however, that this method should be used only when no reasonable alternative was available and
that all open meeting law requirements must be observed.55
Florida permits members of a public
body who are physically unable to attend but mentally capable to use interactive video and
telephone systems to participate and vote, but physical presence at the meeting is otherwise
required if action is to be taken.56
Georgia permits meetings by conference or speaker telephone
when the public can hear and record the comments and votes without imposing a requirement for
emergency or special circumstances.57
Before enacting statutory authority for telephonic
meetings, Illinois permitted the State Board of Elections to use conference calls with speakers
because of the short time periods within which that board must decide complaints.58
Del.Code tit. 29, §10006 (2013).
Okla.Stat. tit. 25, §304(7) (2013) (both visual and auditory communication functions must be used).
Ariz.Op.Atty.Gen. I91-033 (Oct. 17, 1991); Ariz.Op.Atty.Gen. I79-316 (Dec. 31, 1979) (conference
call meeting permitted).
Fla.Op.Atty.Gen. 2001-66 (Sept. 19, 2001); Fla.Op.Atty.Gen. 94-55 (June 15, 1994); Fla.Op.Atty.Gen.
92-44 (June 1, 1992).
Ga.Op.Atty.Gen. 85-26 (May 9, 1985) (in support, Georgia Attorney General noted that Georgia law
had been amended to permit corporate board meetings by conference call).
Ill.Op.Atty.Gen. 82-041 (Nov. 10, 1982) (broadcast must be open to media and public and recorded by
court reporter); see Scott v. Illinois State Police Merit Board, 222 Ill.App.3d 496, 584 N.E.2d 199, 204
A Michigan court found “no problem with the holding of hearings via teleconference
calls . . . heard through speaker phones and . . . audible to all in the room,”59
and the Michigan
Attorney General ruled that interactive television could properly be used for a public meeting.60
Mississippi permits the recording of final votes by telephone when the vote is reduced to public
record and all deliberations were conducted in accordance with the open meeting law.61
Moreover, the Mississippi Attorney General approved participation in lawfully called meetings
at which a quorum is physically present by an incapacitated member of the public body so long
as the public may hear all discussions.62
The Ohio Attorney General approved the use of speaker
telephone equipment by one member of a three-person quorum so long as the audience could
hear the absent member.63
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court approved use of speaker phone
meetings, reversing two decisions that had disapproved their use.64
Wisconsin Attorney General
ruled: “A telephone conference meeting may be considered ‘reasonably accessible’ if the public
and the news media may effectively monitor it.”65
Use of telephones and videoconference facilities raises the likelihood that equipment
(1991) (telephone conference of matters excepted from open meeting requirement conducted with notice
does not violate law).
Goode v. Department of Social Services, 143 Mich.App. 756, 373 N.W.2d 210, 212 (1985), leave to
appeal denied, 424 Mich. 882 (1986), followed in Detroit Base Coalition for Human Rights of
Handicapped v. Michigan Dep’t of Social Services, 158 Mich.App. 613, 405 N.W.2d 136, 139 (1987),
rev’d on other grounds, 431 Mich. 172, 428 N.W.2d 335 (1988) (both locations employing telephone
conference facilities must be open for public).
Mich.Op.Atty.Gen. 6835 (Feb. 13, 1995).
Board of Trustees v. Mississippi Publishers Corp., 478 So.2d 269, 279 (Miss. 1985).
Miss.Op.Atty.Gen. 210 (Feb. 21, 1991), following Miss.Op.Atty.Gen. 443 (Sept. 26, 1990).
OhioOp.Atty.Gen. 85-048 (Aug. 15, 1985); see OhioOp.Atty.Gen. 2009-034 (Sept. 15, 2009).
Members of the public body must be physically present in Ohio to vote or to be counted toward a
quorum, OhioRev.Code §121.22(C) (2013), so the telephone may be used only for those members whose
presence is not needed to create a quorum and who will not vote.
Babac v. Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board, 531 Pa. 391, 613 A.2d 551, 554 (1992), rev’g Finucane
v. Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board, 136 Pa.Commw. 681, 584 A.2d 1069 (1990) (statute does not
include telephone communications in definition of “meeting,” thereby forbidding meetings by
speakerphone for lack of express authorization), and Babac v. Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board, 136
Pa.Commw. 621, 584 A.2d 399, 402 (1990) (“The obvious intent of the Sunshine Act is to allow the
public to see their representatives at work and observe their demeanor. Having Board members conduct a
meeting by speakerphone, instead of attending in person, seriously vitiates the public’s right to observe
and assess the quality of the representation they are receiving.”).
Wis.Op.Atty.Gen. 39-80 (June 17, 1980); accord, Wisconsin Attorney General, Wisconsin Open
Meetings Law, A Compliance Guide (Aug. 2010), at http://www.doj.state.wi.us/dls/OMPR/2010OMCG-
PRO/2010_OML_Compliance_Guide.pdf (visited July 22, 2013) (telephone conference call “is very
similar to an in-person conversation and thus qualifies as a convening of members”).
failures and other difficulties may arise to prevent full communication among the locations. The
Texas Attorney General has concluded that a governmental body must recess or adjourn its
meeting if technical difficulties render portions of the meeting inaccessible to the public at a
remote location and that the governmental body may not avoid having to recess or adjourn the
meeting for technical difficulties by specifying in its meeting notice that, if technical difficulties
occur, the quorum will continue to conduct business.66
Hawaii similarly requires the meeting to
be terminated if audio and visual communication cannot be maintained at all videoconference
locations after the meeting convenes, even if a quorum is physically present in one location, but
the meeting may continue with audio alone if everyone has already received any visual aids or
participants are able to transmit visual aids readily to other locations within 15 minutes.67
minimum, a public body may not notice a meeting by videoconference at specific locations and
then fail to provide videoconference connections at the locations.68
Restricted Use of Telephone and Videoconference
Rather than grant broad permission for use of telephone and videoconference at public
meetings, some States identify certain circumstances in which telephone and videoconference are
appropriate and prohibit their use in other circumstances. Nebraska combines a number of these
circumstances, authorizing state public bodies and certain multi-county bodies only to hold no
more than half the meetings per year by videoconference,69
permitting emergency meetings may
be held by electronic or telecommunication equipment,70
and authorizing any public body to
permit members of public to appear by video or telecommunications equipment.71
Iowa authorizes a meeting by electronic means only if a meeting in person is impossible
or impracticable and only if the public body provides public access to the conversation to the
extent reasonably possible, complies with the notice requirements and keeps minutes of the
meeting that include an explanation of the circumstances making a meeting in person impossible
Iowa also permits executive sessions by electronic means if the public body
Tex.Op.Atty.Gen. DM-480 (Aug. 5, 1998).
Haw.Rev.Stat. §92-3.5 (2013).
Nev.Op.Atty.Gen. 2006-05 (July 31, 2006) (violation to notice a meeting to be videoconferenced to
different locations in Esmeralda County, and then fail to videoconference the meeting to those locations).
Neb.Rev.Stat. §84-1411(2), (3) (2013).
Neb.Rev.Stat. §84-1411(5) (2013); Neb.Op.Atty.Gen. 95063 (Aug. 10, 1995) (meetings by telephone
conference call without video interaction are only allowed for emergencies).
Neb.Rev.Stat. §84-1411(6) (2013).
IowaCode §21.8(1) (2013) (“only in circumstances where such a meeting in person is impossible or
impractical”); IowaOp.Atty.Gen. (May 15, 1980) (these requirements apply only when majority of
members of body are separately participating by electronic means).
complies with the requirements for closed meetings.73
Some States permit individual members to attend by telephone or videoconference only if
a quorum of the public body is meeting together in person. Thus, New Hampshire authorizes a
public body to allow one or more members to participate in a meeting by electronic or other
means of communication for the benefit of the public and the governing body if a quorum of the
public body is physically present at the location specified in the meeting notice and the entire
meeting and all members are audible or otherwise discernible to the public at that location, and
all votes are taken by roll call.74
The physical presence requirements do not apply in an
emergency when “immediate action is imperative and the physical presence of a quorum is not
reasonably practical within the period of time requiring action.”75
The chair or presiding officer
of the public body determines the presence of an emergency, and the facts on which the
determination is based must be included in the minutes.
Enacted in 1995, a Texas provision permits governmental bodies to hold open or closed
meetings by telephone conference call if the meeting is held by an advisory board or if an
emergency or public necessity exists and convening a quorum at one location is difficult or
impossible; notice requirements apply to such meetings, and meetings required to be open must
be audible to the public at an announced location and tape recorded.76
Texas added a provision
in 1997 generally permitting public bodies to hold open or closed meetings by videoconference
call if a quorum of the body is physically present at one location. In these circumstances, the
regular notice requirements are expanded to provide the locations of all members attending the
meeting, which must all be open for the public to attend, other specific requirements are
satisfied, and the meeting is audio or videotaped with the recording made available to the
Texas permits the governing body of an institution of higher learning to hold open
meetings by telephone conference call, available to be heard by the public at the regular meeting
place, subject to regular notice requirements and tape recorded, when immediate action is
IowaCode §21.8(3) (2013).
N.H.Rev.Stat. §91-A:2(III) (2013).
N.H.Rev.Stat. §91-A:2(III)(b) (2013).
Tex.Gov.Code §551.125 (2013), construed in Tex.Op.Atty.Gen. No. JC-352 (Mar. 5, 2001) (“Section
551.125, in permitting a meeting by telephone conference call only in case of an emergency or public
necessity and only if it is ‘difficult or impossible’ to convene a quorum in one location, contemplates
meetings by telephone conference call in extraordinary circumstances and not merely when attending a
meeting at short notice would inconvenience members of the governmental body. See id. §551.125(b).
When a quorum of the governmental body has convened for an emergency meeting at the meeting
location, section 551.125 does not permit absent members to participate in the meeting by telephone
conference call.”); see Tex.Gov.Code §551.126 (2013) (Higher Education Coordinating Board may use
telephone or video conference call if it complies with section 551.125 and minimum requirements for
visibility and audibility). But see Tex.Gov.Code §§551.123, 551.124 (2013) (Board of Criminal Justice
and Board of Pardons and Paroles may hold clemency hearings by telephone conference call, omitting
requirements of notice and audibility).
Tex.Gov.Code §551.127 (2013).
necessary and it is difficult or impossible to obtain a quorum in one location.78
Illinois has adopted a similar provision, providing that, if a quorum is physically present,
a majority of the public body may allow a member to attend by video or audio conference if the
member is prevented from physically attending by (i) personal illness or disability;
(ii) employment purposes or the business of the public body; or (iii) a family or other
Illinois also provides that, if an open meeting of a public body with large
geographic jurisdiction is held simultaneously at one of its offices and other locations owned or
leased by the body through an interactive video conference and if the body provides public
notice and access for all locations, then members physically present in those locations can count
towards a quorum.80
The generally applicable requirement that a quorum be physically present
at the location of an open meeting does not apply to these state bodies. For closed meetings of
public bodies with less than statewide jurisdiction, Illinois requires a quorum to be physically
present at the location of a closed meeting, but other members may participate in the meeting by
means of a video or audio conference.81
A few States, like Illinois, permit statewide public bodies to use telephone and
videoconference while prohibiting or restricting their use by local public bodies. Thus, Virginia
authorizes state public bodies to hold all but one of their meetings annually through electronic
communications under stated conditions, including a requirement that a quorum be physically
Tex.Gov.Code §§551.121, 551.122 (2013). But see Tex.Elec.Code §145.036 (2013) (“For the purpose
of filling a vacancy, a majority of the committee’s membership constitutes a quorum. To be nominated, a
person must receive a favorable vote of a majority of the members present.”), construed in State
Democratic Executive Committee v. Secretary of State, 758 S.W.2d 227 (Tex. 1988) (Election Code
violated by telephone poll selection of nominee by State Republican Executive Committee; statute
requires favorable vote of majority of members present).
Ill.Comp.Stat. ch. 5, §120/7(a) (2013); see Freedom Oil Co. v. Illinois Pollution Control Board, 275
Ill.App.3d 508, 515, 655 N.E.2d 1184, 1189 (1995) (affirming use of speakerphone for meeting: “There
is nothing within the Open Meetings Act which specifically prohibits conducting a meeting by telephone
conference or requires members of a public body to be in each other’s physical presence to establish a
quorum.”). The public body must adopt rules to govern attendance by video or audio conference that may
be more limited, and limitations do not apply to (i) closed meetings of public bodies with (A) statewide
jurisdiction or (ii) meetings of state bodies that lack authority to make binding recommendations or
determinations or to take substantive action. Such a state body may permit members to attend meetings
by video or audio conference following specific procedural rules adopted by the body. Ill.Comp.Stat. ch.
5, §120/7(c), (d) (2013).
Ill.Comp.Stat. ch. 5, §§120/2.01, 120/7 (2013). These bodies are those with statewide jurisdiction or
“(B) Illinois library systems with jurisdiction over a specific geographic area of more than 4,500 square
miles, or (C) municipal transit districts with jurisdiction over a specific geographic area of more than
4,500 square miles or (ii) open or closed meetings of State advisory boards or bodies that do not have
authority to make binding recommendations or determinations or to take any other substantive action.”
Ill.Comp.Stat. ch. 5, §120/7(d) (2013).
Ill.Comp.Stat. ch. 5, §120/2.01 (2013).
assembled in one location unless there is a declared state of emergency.82
Virginia amended its
statute to permit meetings by “any audio or combined audio and visual communication method”
after a court found telephone conference calls did not qualify as meetings.83
Local bodies may
meet by electronic communication means without a quorum of the public body physically
assembled at one location when the Governor declares a state of emergency if its catastrophic
nature makes it impracticable or unsafe to assemble a quorum in one location and the meeting’s
purpose is to address the emergency.84
An individual member of a local body in Virginia may
participate by electronic communication if that member has a personal emergency, disability,
medical condition, or personal matter, and other restrictions are satisfied.85
member of a regional public body may participate if that member’s residence is over 60 miles
from the meeting location and a majority of the members approve.86
In the last two cases, a
quorum must be physically assembled in the meeting location and the remote participant must be
heard by all persons at that location.87
Georgia now permits public bodies with statewide jurisdiction to conduct meetings by
telecommunications if the requirements of the open meeting law are satisfied.88
Under circumstances necessitated by emergency conditions involving public safety or
the preservation of property or public services, agencies or committees thereof not
otherwise permitted by subsection (f) of this Code section to conduct meetings by
teleconference may meet by means of teleconference so long as the notice required
by this chapter is provided and means are afforded for the public to have
simultaneous access to the teleconference meeting. On any other occasion of the
meeting of an agency or committee thereof, and so long as a quorum is present in
person, a member may participate by teleconference if necessary due to reasons of
health or absence from the jurisdiction so long as the other requirements of this
Va.Code §2.2-3708(B) (2013).
Va.Code §§2.2-3701, 2.2-3708(B) (2013), adopted after Roanoke City School Board v. Times-World
Corp., 226 Va. 185, 307 S.E.2d 256, 259 (1983) (“physical presence of the participants is essential. A
telephone conference call does not qualify. A participant in a telephone call can communicate with
others, listen to them, speak and be heard, but none of this is done in the physical presence of individuals
who have come together, met, assembled, and are ‘sitting’ as a body or entity.”), legislatively abrogated
by Va.Code §2.2-3708(B) (2013) (state bodies may use electronic communications for all but one of their
meetings annually under stated conditions).
Va.Code §2.2-3708(G) (2011). The local public body must give the best available public notice
contemporaneously with notice provided its members, make arrangements for public access to the
meeting, and state the nature of the emergency and the fact that the meeting was held by electronic
communication means in the minutes.
Va.Code §2.2-3708.1(A)(1), (2) (2013).
Va.Code §2.2-3708.1(A)(3) (2013).
Va.Code §2.2-3708.1(B) (2013).
Ga.Code §50-14-1(f) (2013).
chapter are met. Absent emergency conditions or the written opinion of a physician
or other health professional that reasons of health prevent a member's physical
presence, no member shall participate by teleconference pursuant to this subsection
more than twice in one calendar year.89
Until the repeal in January 2013, Indiana permitted the board of the Indiana Bond Bank
to use a speakerphone or similar equipment that permits all persons present to communicate
simultaneously, if at least four members were present in person and the minutes reflected the
identity of those who participated in person and those by electronic means.90
The Indiana Public
Access Counselor deemed silence as to all other public bodies to mean that telephonic
participation by a member, even when a quorum was physically present, was a violation.91
Tennessee provides that participation in meeting by any means of communication,
electronic or otherwise, is permitted upon declaration of necessity and only for members of state
Florida provides for the Administration Commission to adopt uniform rules of procedure
for state agencies establishing procedures for conducting meetings by communications media
technology, which means “electronic transmission of printed matter, audio, full-motion video,
freeze-frame video, compressed video, and digital video by any method available.”93
“If a public
meeting, hearing, or workshop is to be conducted by means of communications media
technology, or if attendance may be provided by such means, the notice shall so state [and] shall
state how persons interested in attending may do so and shall name locations, if any, where
communications media technology facilities will be available.”94
The Florida Attorney General
has ruled “that a school board may use electronic media technology in order to allow a physically
absent member to attend a public meeting if a quorum of the members of the board is physically
present at the meeting site.”95
Given differing considerations for state and local bodies, however,
the Attorney General stressed that participation of an absent member of a local body by
telephone should be permitted only in an extraordinary circumstance and only when a quorum is
Ga.Code §50-14-1(g) (2013).
Ind.Code former §5-1.5-2-2.5.
Public Access Counselor Advisory Decision re Indiana Council on Independent Living (Oct. 18, 2006),
at http://www.in.gov/pac/informal/files/ICOIL_Simers_inquiry_phone.pdf (visited July 22, 2013).
Tenn.Code §8-44-108 (2013); Tenn.Op.Atty.Gen. 82-460 (Oct. 8, 1982) (special meeting may be held
by telephone if broadcast so public may hear); Tenn.Op.Atty.Gen. 82-48 (Feb. 4, 1982).
Fla.Stat. §120.54(5)(b)(2) (2013) (also providing that limitation of points of access to meetings,
hearings and workshops subject to open meeting law to locations not normally open to public is presumed
to violate open meeting law), construed in Fla.Op.Atty.Gen. 98-28 (Apr. 6, 1998); Fla.Op.Atty.Gen. 94-
55 (June 15, 1994), and in Fla.Op.Atty.Gen. 92-44 (June 1, 1992).
Fla.Stat. §120.54(5)(b)(2) (2013).
Fla.Op.Atty.Gen. 98-28 (Apr. 6, 1998), followed in Fla.Op.Atty.Gen. 2002-82 (Dec. 11, 2002)
(physically disabled members may participate electronically when a quorum is physically present).
physically present at the meeting.96
Various issues remain with respect to electronic meetings, including
defining the term broadly enough to encompass all the various forms of electronic
meetings that exist or foreseeably might exist so that the statute will cover everything
it should cover without needing to be amended for each new device or technique;
alternatively, defining the term with enough clarity to eliminate disputes as to what is
and is not permitted for the various devices and techniques;
identifying ways to achieve convenience and reduced expense without losing
transparency to the public and the collegiality that may be essential to good
functioning of the body;
clearly reflecting whether different requirements apply for statewide or large regional
bodies, for emergencies or designated special circumstances, addressing the
distribution of written materials in multiple locations, and leaving no ambiguities to
present later disputes and litigation;
addressing the effect of technical problems with the communications on the validity
of the meeting and the portion of the meeting before the problems began;
for public bodies that have public participation, retaining the best aspects of public
participation when members of the public body are attending electronically.
Serial meetings in person are forbidden by statute or case law in almost all States,97
serial meetings in writing,98
or by telephone,99
or in some electronic format.100
In most States,
Fla.Op.Atty.Gen. 2003-41 (Sept. 3, 2003).
Stockton Newspapers, Inc. v. Members of Redevelopment Agency, 171 Cal.App.3d 95, 214 Cal.Rptr.
561 (3d Dist. 1985);
City Council v. Cooper, 358 So.2d 440 (Ala. 1978) (prior law: enjoining use of letters signed by
majority of city council to conduct business between bi-monthly meetings); Common Cause v. Stirling,
147 Cal.App.3d 518, 524, 195 Cal.Rptr. 163 (4th Dist. 1983) (“use of internally circulated letters among
council members as a vehicle for governmental action violated the Brown Act”); San Diego Union (June
2, 1984) (letter on city letterhead signed by four councilmembers evidences apparent violation);
Fla.Op.Atty.Gen. 97-23 (Apr. 15, 1997) (“If a memorandum reflecting the views of a board member on
an issue pending before the board is circulated to other board members with each indicating approval or
disapproval and completion of the signatures gives the memorandum the effect of becoming the official
action of the board, there is a violation of the Sunshine Law.”); Fla.Op.Atty.Gen. 96-35 (May 17, 1996);
Fla.Op.Atty.Gen. 90-3 (Jan. 25, 1990) (board members’ comments written on circulated draft contract on
an issue that will come before board violate law); Fla.Op.Atty.Gen. 89-23 (Apr. 18, 1989) (transmittal of
report to members is not violation when there is no response from or interaction among members in
private and report is available for public inspection); Fla.Op.Atty.Gen. 077-143 (Dec. 30, 1977)
(members of public body may individually listen to tape recording); Kan.Op.Atty.Gen. 84-50 (June 7,
1984) (planning commission members may not sign off on written zoning decisions individually between
meetings to expedite decisions); La.Op.Atty.Gen. 87-356 (May 19, 1987) (council may not conduct
business by circulating letter for signature indicating that its members will support an action at council
meeting); Armstrong v. Mayor & City Council, 409 Md. 648, 662, 976 A.2d 349, 358 (2009) (quoting
Circuit Court: “‘The Committee conducted business with a quorum of its members when it circulated the
Bill for signatures of members who were going to vote in favor of sending the Bill to the City Council
with a favorable report. This was done in private and away from the public’s view, in violation of the
essence of the Open Meetings Act.’”), following Community & Labor United for Baltimore Charter
Committee (CLUB) v. Baltimore City Board of Elections, 377 Md. 183, 186-87, 832 A.2d 804, 806-07
(2003); Mich.Op.Atty.Gen. 5222 (Sept. 1, 1977) (round-robining of bills whereby vote is obtained
individually from members is violation); Nev.Op.Atty.Gen. 85-19 (Dec. 17, 1985) (members of public
body may not render licensing decision by mail poll or ballot); Okla.Op.Atty.Gen. 82-7 (Jan. 20, 1982)
(voting by mail violates law); Okla.Op.Atty.Gen. 80-144 (July 10, 1980) (voting by mail is prohibited);
S.C.Op.Atty.Gen. (Sept. 6, 1984); S.D.Op.Atty.Gen. 88-35 (Sept. 1, 1988) (polling by mail is prohibited);
Tex.Op.Atty.Gen. JC-0307 (Nov. 20, 2000) (“Circulation of a claim, invoice, or bill among members of a
commissioners court for approval of payment in writing in lieu of consideration of the item at a meeting
held pursuant to the Act would violate the Act.”); Tex.Op.Atty.Gen. DM-95 (Mar. 4, 1992) (letter
expressing opinion on matters relevant to city government signed by majority of city council that was not
considered and approved in lawful meeting is violation); Tex.Op.Atty.Gen. JM-645 (Mar. 16, 1987);
UtahOp.Atty.Gen. 79-210 (July 6, 1979) (approval of travel requests on “walk through” violates collegial
character of board; “it can’t seriously be contended that the Board of Examiners can take official action
by acting individually and independently of any meeting called in the manner required by law”).
Stockton Newspapers, Inc. v. Members of Redevelopment Agency, 171 Cal.App.3d 95, 103, 214
Cal.Rptr. 561 (3d Dist. 1985); Ky.Op.Atty.Gen. 10-OMD-015 (Jan. 25, 2010) (phone voting, by which
sufficient votes are gathered by multiple phone calls, is a violation); Board of Trustees v. Board of
County Comm’rs, 186 Mont. 148, 606 P.2d 1069 (1980) (two of three commissioners discussed and
approved a subdivision plat by telephone); Del Papa v. Board of Regents, 114 Nev. 388, 956 P.2d 770,
776-80 (1998); N.M.Op.Atty.Gen. 91-12 (Nov. 5, 1991) (resolution permitting telephonic authorization
of county purchases violates open meeting law); Willmann v. City of San Antonio, 123 S.W.3d 469
(Tex.App. 2003) (telephone polling violates law); Hitt v. Mabry, 687 S.W.2d 791 (Tex.App. 1985)
(secret deliberations by telephone violate law); Elizondo v. Williams, 643 S.W.2d 765 (Tex.App. 1982),
appeal from permanent injunction sub nom. Hitt v. Mabry, 687 S.W.2d 791 (Tex.App. 1985) (injunction
against telephone conferences); Wood v. Battleground School District, 107 Wash.App. 550, 27 P.3d
1208, 1216 n.4 (2001) (telephone tree in which members repeatedly phone each other to form a collective
decision is a violation); Wis.Op.Atty.Gen. 39-80 (June 17, 1980) (any telephone conference call must
comply with open meeting law). But see Gavin v. City of Cascade, 500 N.W.2d 729, 732 (IowaApp.
1993) (mayor’s communications with each of three city council members individually was not a meeting).
Cal.Gov.Code §§11122.5(b), 54952.2(b) (2013) (“use a series of communications of any kind, directly
or through intermediaries”); Fla.Op.Atty.Gen. 89-39 (June 26, 1989); Del Papa v. Board of Regents, 114
Nev. 388, 400, 956 P.2d 770, 778 (1998) (serial electronic communications used to deliberate toward a
decision violated open meetings law and “if a quorum is present, or is gathered by serial electronic
communications, the body must deliberate and actually vote on the matter at a public meeting”); Johnston
v. Metropolitan Gov’t of Nashville & Davidson County, 320 S.W.3d 299, 312 (Tenn.App. 2009) (e-mail
“exchanges, most copied to all Council members, mirror the type of debate and reciprocal attempts at
persuasion that would be expected to take place at a Council meeting . . . are ‘electronic
communication . . . used to . . . deliberate public business in circumvention of the spirit or
requirements’”), quoting Tenn.Code §8-44-102(c) (2013).
there is little or no distinction among various ways that a forbidden serial meeting can be
conducted, and development of different forms of electronic communications did not alter the
rules. There are some interesting wrinkles to consider:
a few States define a valid “meeting” as requiring the physical presence of all
or a quorum of participants in some or all circumstances.102
that a meeting is not a valid meeting for purposes of the open meeting law does not
mean that it cannot be a violation of that law.103
the federal Sunshine Act, when an agency holds meetings, the meetings must be open
to the public, but the Act does not require the agency to hold meetings. Instead, a
federal agency may conduct business by “sequential or notational written voting.”104
State courts and statutes typically do not permit notational voting,105
but a few do.106
Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, Tennessee and Texas require physical presence absent an emergency.
Minnesota requires at least one member of the body to be present at the meeting place.
Alabama, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Ohio, Virginia so require for some or all meetings.
E.g., Stockton Newspapers, Inc. v. Members of Redevelopment Agency, 171 Cal.App.3d 95, 102, 214
Cal.Rptr. 561 (3d Dist. 1985); Wood v. Battleground School District, 107 Wash.App. 550, 562, 27 P.3d
1208, 1216 (2001); McComas v. Board of Education, 197 W. Va. 188, 200, 475 S.E.2d 280, 292 (1996).
AMREP Corp. v. F.T.C., 768 F.2d 1171, 1178 (10th Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 475 U.S. 1034 (1986),
following Pacific Legal Foundation v. Council on Environmental Quality, 636 F.2d 1259, 1266 (D.C.Cir.
1980); State of Idaho v. Interstate Commerce Comm’n, 939 F.2d 784, 787 n.2 (9th Cir. 1991)
(“Notational voting is a procedure which allows several members of a multi-member agency or
commission to vote individually and separately, as opposed to voting at a meeting of the members of the
agency.”); Railroad Comm’n of Texas v. United States, 765 F.2d 221, 230 (D.C.Cir. 1985); Common
Cause v. Nuclear Regulatory Comm’n, 674 F.2d 921, 934-35 & n.42 (D.C.Cir. 1982), citing S.Rep.No.
1178, 94th Cong., 1st Sess. 11 (1975); Communications Systems, Inc. v. FCC, 595 F.2d 797, 799-800
(D.C.Cir. 1978); Elkem Metals Co. v. United States, 126 F.Supp.2d 567, 575 & n.4 (Ct.Int’l Trade
2000) (further history omitted).
State ex rel. Philipp Transit Lines, Inc. v. Public Service Comm’n, 552 S.W.2d 696 (Mo. 1977),
discussed in State ex rel. Aquila, Inc. v. Public Service Comm’n, 326 S.W.3d 20 (Mo.App. 2010).
Alas.Stat. §44.62.600 (2013) (“A member of an agency qualified to vote on a question may vote by
mail or by teleconferencing.”); Alas.Op.Atty.Gen. 1994-287 (July 5, 1994) (voting by mail is outside
open meeting law); Cal.Gov.Code §11126(c)(3) (2013) (authorizing deliberations in executive session by
state bodies conducting administrative adjudications under Government Code §§11500 et seq.);
Cal.Gov.Code §11526 (2013) (permitting voting by mail or “another appropriate method”); 25
Cal.L.Rev.Comm’n Reports 55 (1995) (only members qualified to vote may use mail or other methods);
Fleener v. City of Oskaloosa, 778 N.W.2d 66, 2009 IowaApp. LEXIS 1967 (2009) (“as the various
members signed the January 3, 2008 letter, the later ones to sign were informed of any who had already
signed, and were also able to see those signatures. We agree no meeting and no deliberation occurred”),
following Gavin v. City of Cascade, 500 N.W.2d 729, 732 (IowaApp. 1993) (mayor’s sequential
communications with council members was not a meeting as defined by the statute or a violation);
Md.Op.Atty.Gen. 96-016 (May 22, 1996) (approving notational voting by writings or by e-mail). A bill to
Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin
forbid serial meetings by barring communications between fewer than a quorum of the public
body concerning matters within its jurisdiction except in a properly convened public meeting or
within a specific exception. No additional provision forbidding serial communications is
necessary to prohibit serial communications in these States.
Some States are more complicated. Initial efforts to prohibit serial meetings of less than
a quorum did not succeed in Indiana.107
In 2007, Indiana enacted extensive regulation of serial
meetings. The governing body of a public agency violates the open meeting law if six or more
members of the governing body participate in a series of at least two gatherings of members of
the governing body and the series of gatherings meets all of the following criteria:
(1) One (1) of the gatherings is attended by at least three (3) members but less than a
quorum of the members of the governing body and the other gatherings include at
least two (2) members of the governing body.
(2) The sum of the number of different members of the governing body attending any
of the gatherings at least equals a quorum of the governing body.
(3) All the gatherings concern the same subject matter and are held within a period of
not more than seven (7) consecutive days.
(4) The gatherings are held to take official action on public business.108
Under this subsection, a member of a governing body attends a gathering if the member is
present in person or if the member participates by telephone or other electronic means, excluding
These provisions do not apply to various interactions that are excepted from
the definition of a “meeting.”110
This provision is too complex, too open to interpretation (e.g.,
what is “the same subject matter”), and omits e-mail.
Intent to evade open meeting requirements is an express element of a prohibited serial
meeting in a few other States. In Nevada, a meeting is defined to include
amend the Iowa law to encompass serial meetings failed in the 2005 legislature. Dooley v. Johnson
County Board of Supervisors, 760 N.W.2d 210, 2008 IowaApp. LEXIS 1718 (2008).
Dillman v. Trustees of Indiana University, 848 N.E.2d 348, 351-52 (Ind.App.), transfer denied, 860
N.E.2d 594 (Ind. 2006) (“gatherings of less than a majority of the Trustees did not constitute a meeting
subject to the Open Door Law”), followed in City of Gary v. McCrady, 851 N.E.2d 359, 367 (Ind.App.
Ind.Code §5-14-1.5-3.1(a) (2013). A slightly different version of the four criteria applies “to the city-
county council of a consolidated city or county having a consolidated city.” Ind.Code §5-14-1.5-3.1(b)
Ind.Code §5-14-1.5-3.1(a), (b) (2013). See generally Handbook on Indiana’s Public Access Laws at 8,
at http://www.in.gov/pac/informal/files/pac_handbook.pdf (visited July 22, 2013).
Ind.Code §5-14-1.5-3.1(c) (2013).
Any series of gatherings of members of a public body at which:
(I) Less than a quorum is present at any individual gathering;
(II) The members of the public body attending one or more of the gatherings
collectively constitute a quorum; and
(III) The series of gatherings was held with the specific intent to avoid the provisions
of this chapter.111
New Hampshire provides: “Communications outside a meeting, including, but not limited to,
sequential communications among members of a public body, shall not be used to circumvent
the spirit and purpose of this chapter . . . .”112
Similarly, Texas makes it a misdemeanor for a
member or members of a governmental body to conspire knowingly to circumvent the open
meeting law by meeting in numbers less than a quorum for the purpose of secret deliberations in
violation of the law.113
Provisions of this sort require a finding of scienter to trigger a violation,
making enforcement more difficult.
Other States address the issue of serial meetings concurrently with other interactions
between or among members of the public body. For example, Hawaii permits two members of a
board to “discuss between themselves matters relating to official board business to enable them
to perform their duties faithfully, as long as no commitment to vote is made or sought and the
two members do not constitute a quorum of their board.”114
This provision permits two council
members to discuss council business between themselves but prohibits either of them thereafter
from discussing the same council business with any other council members outside of a properly
Hawaii provides: “No chance meeting, permitted interaction, or electronic
Nev.Rev.Stat. §241.015(2) (2013); compare Dewey v. Redevelopment Agency, 119 Nev. 87, 64 P.3d
1070, 1078 (2003) (back-to-back briefings do not constitute a “constructive quorum”; when less than a
quorum is present, private discussions and information gathering do not violate the Open Meeting Law),
with Del Papa v. Board of Regents, 114 Nev. 388, 956 P.2d 770, 777 (1998) (“we believe that the
legislature intended to prohibit public bodies from making decisions via serial electronic
communications”), both discussed in Nev.Op.Atty.Gen. OMLO 2007-01 (June 11, 2007).
N.H.Rev.Stat. §91-A:2-a(II) (2013).
Tex.Gov.Code §551.143(a) (2013); see Esperanza Peace & Justice Center v. City of San Antonio, 316
F.Supp.2d 433 (W.D.Tex. 2001) (illegal “walking quorum” facilitated by mayor and city manager); Heath
& Rogers, Did the Attorney General Shine Light on the Confusion in Texas’ Sunshine Law? Interpreting
Open Meetings Act Provision §551.143, 7 Tex.Tech.Admin.L.J. 97 (2006).
Haw.Rev.Stat. §92-2.5(a) (2013).
Right to Know Committee v. City Council, 117 Haw. 1, 175 P.3d 111 (App. 2007) (“Such serial
communication is contrary to the letter, the intent and the spirit of the statute.”); see Office of Information
Practices Op. Ltr. 05-15 (Aug. 4, 2005); Office of Information Practices Op. Ltr. 04-04 (Feb. 20, 2004)
(“HCRC staff cannot poll individual Commissioners outside of a properly noticed meeting for the
purpose of determining and/or approving the HCRC’s legislative testimony”); Office of Information
Practices Op. Ltr. 04-01 (Jan. 13, 2004) (e-mail voting on matters under board’s supervision violates law).
communication shall be used to circumvent the spirit or requirements of this part to make a
decision or to deliberate toward a decision upon a matter over which the board has supervision,
control, jurisdiction, or advisory power.”116
To the same effect, Tennessee provides that no
“chance meetings, informal assemblages, or electronic communication shall be used to decide or
deliberate public business in circumvention of the spirit or requirements of this part.”117
number of States have similar prohibitions.118
Oklahoma provides: “No informal gatherings or any electronic or telephonic
communications, except teleconferences as authorized by Section [307.1] of this act, among a
majority of the members of a public body shall be used to decide any action or take any vote on
Oklahoma’s definition of “meeting” declares: “Meeting shall not include
informal gatherings of a majority of the members of the public body when no business of the
public body is discussed.”120
In Kansas, when a board of county commissioners changed its quorum from three to four,
the State objected that the change would permit two members to meet and then individually meet
two other members and thereby circumvent the open meeting law. The court rejected this view,
observing that the legislature “could have prevented this result by simply providing that the Open
Meetings Act applies whenever two members of a governmental body or agency gather or
assemble. Instead, it refused to adopt such an approach and defined a meeting simply as ‘a
majority of a quorum,’ but did not define what constitutes a quorum.”121
A later case held that a
gathering or assembly required physical presence in the same room or place, so that telephone
calls and other interactive communications were outside the scope of the law.122
then defined a “meeting” to mean, in 1994, “any gathering, assembly, telephone call or any other
means of interactive communication by a majority of a quorum of the membership of a body or
agency subject to this act for the purpose of discussing the business or affairs of the body or
agency” and, in 2008, “any gathering or assembly in person or through the use of a telephone or
any other medium for interactive communication by a majority of the membership of a body or
agency subject to this act for the purpose of discussing the business or affairs of the body or
Haw.Rev.Stat. §92-5(b) (2013).
Tenn.Code §8-44-102(c) (2013).
Alabama, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts,
Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, North
Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin all have a similar provision.
Okla.Stat. tit. 25, §306 (2013); Okla.Op.Atty.Gen. 81-69 (Apr. 2, 1981) (“The legislative intent is
unmistakable. Section 306 is an absolute prohibition upon any attempt to circumvent the Open Meeting
Act and obtain a consensus upon an item of business by informal meetings outside a public meeting.”).
Okla.Stat. tit. 25, §304(2) (2013).
State ex rel. Stephan v. Board of County Comm’rs, 244 Kan. 536, 770 P.2d 455, 457 (1989).
State ex rel. Stephan v. Board of County Comm’rs, 254 Kan. 446, 866 P.2d 1024, 1025-26 (1994);
Kan.Op.Atty.Gen. 95-13 (Jan. 23, 1995).
The Kansas Attorney General concluded that “interactive communications” included
serial communications by e-mail and intermediaries.124
In 2009, Kansas law was amended to
provide that “interactive communications,” rather than “meetings,” “in a series shall be open if
they collectively involve a majority of the membership of the body or agency, share a common
topic of discussion concerning the business or affairs of the body or agency, and are intended by
any or all of the participants to reach agreement on a matter that would require binding action to
be taken by the body or agency.”125
Communications must be among the members, so no
interactive communication occurs if a nonmember communicates with a member who responds
and copies other members with the response, when no further communications follow.126
E-Mail and Similar Communications
Relatively few States affirmatively address e-mail and similar computer communications
specifically in their statutes, although the number of these States is increasing. E-mail is so
available, so handy, and so readily concealed if the participants do not reveal it that it presents
significant opportunities for violation of open meeting laws.127
By “e-mail,” I mean electronic
communications among a few recipients.128
Websites, open blogs and other communications
that may be accessed freely by anyone with a computer and Internet access are addressed below.
Use of e-mail in the same manner as a letter, when a letter would not violate the law,
Kan.Stat. §75-4317a (2013).
Kan.Op.Atty.Gen. 98-49 (Sept. 16, 1998).
Kan.Stat. §75-4318(f) (2013).
Kan.Op.Atty.Gen. 2009-22 (Oct. 28, 2009).
But see Benjamin, Evaluating E-Rulemaking: Public Participation and Political Institutions, 55 Duke
L.J. 893 (2006); Coglianese, Citizen Participation in Rulemaking: Past, Present, and Future, 55 Duke L.J.
943 (2006); Johnson, The Internet Changes Everything: Revolutionizing Public Participation and Access
to Government Information Through the Internet, 50 Admin.L.Rev. 277 (1998); Noveck, The Electronic
Revolution in Rulemaking, 53 Emory L.J. 433 (2004).
These include social media sites such as Facebook and MySpace, electronic discussion groups and
listservs with limited membership, as well as microblogging services such as Twitter. The key
component of this classification is that communications are intended and typically available to be
accessed only by a selected portion of the public. See Bojorquez & Shores, Open Government and the
Net: Bringing Social Media into the Light, 11 Tex.Tech.Admin.L.J. 45 (2009); Elefant, The “Power of
Social Media: Legal Issues & Best Practices for Utilities Engaging in Social Media, 32 Energy L.J. 1
(2011); Va.FOI Advisory Council AO-01-01 (Jan. 3, 2001) (“Individual members of a public body could
still utilize traditional e-mail to send correspondence to one or several members of a public body. When
such e-mail and all subsequent responses are automatically viewed by all members of the public body,
however, the nature of the electronic transmissions crosses the line between correspondence and
discussion. Once a discussion ensues, it is governed by the meeting provisions of FOIA, which plainly
prohibit any meetings where the members of a local public body are not physically assembled.”).
presents no violation.129
The same is true in reverse.130
Many more decisions and articles address e-mail under the public records laws131
under open meeting laws.132
Applicability of public record laws may depend on
on the identity of those who send or receive the e-mail,
whether publicly owned computers were used for the creation, sending, receipt or
reading and storage of the e-mail,133
whether written during work hours or on personal time,134
Ark.Op.Atty.Gen. 99-018 (Mar. 22, 1999) (e-mail between two public officials is “analogous to
written correspondence”); Md.Op.Atty.Gen. 96-016 (May 22, 1996) (“We see no reason to reach a
different conclusion when the medium of sequential exchange is electronic mail, rather than conventional
writings.”); Va.FOI Advisory Council AO-19-04 (Aug. 31, 2004) (“Members of public bodies need not
refrain from using e-mail in a manner that is the equivalent of sending a letter; however, members of
public bodies should be cautioned against using e-mail in a manner that appears to entail simultaneity.”).
E.g., Cal.Op.Atty.Gen. 00-906 (Feb. 20, 2001) (“We find no distinction between e-mails and other
forms of communication such as leaving telephone messages or sending letters or memorandums.”).
E.g., Bryan & Reynolds, Agency E-Mail and the Public Records Laws—Is the Fox Now Guarding the
Henhouse?, 33 Stetson L.Rev. 649 (2004); Fatino, Public Employers and E-mail: A Primer for the
Practitioner and the Public Professional, 23 N.Ill.U.L.Rev. 131 (2003); Kozinets, Access to the E-Mail
Records of Public Officials Safeguarding the Public’s Right To Know, 25 Comm.Law. 17 (Sum. 2007);
Annot., Disclosure of Electronic Data Under State Public Records and Freedom of Information Acts, 54
A.L.R.6th 653 (2008); Annot., State Freedom of Information Act Requests: Right to Receive Information
in Particular Medium or Format, 86 A.L.R.4th 786 (1991).
E.g., O’Connor & Baratz, Some Assembly Required: The Application of State Open Meeting Laws to
Email Correspondence, 12 Geo.MasonL.Rev. 719 (2004); Comment, Sunshine in Cyberspace - Electronic
Deliberation and the Reach of Open Meeting Laws, 48 St. Louis U.L.J. 755 (2004).
See Bradford v. Director, 83 Ark.App. 332, 345, 128 S.W.3d 20, 27-28 (2003) (irrelevant whether e-
mails transmitted between a state employee and the Governor that involved public’s business were
transmitted to private e-mail addresses through private internet providers or sent to an official government
e-mail address); Del.Op.Atty.Gen. 11-IIB02 (Mar. 16, 2011) (e-mails send and received on private
computers are not in City’s actual or constructive possession and are not public records); City of Dallas v.
Dallas Morning News, LP, 281 S.W.3d 708, 714 (Tex.App. 2009) (unable to decide on summary
judgment City’s “claims the e-mails do not meet the statutory definition of public information, regardless
of whether the e-mails relate to the transaction of official business, because they are not collected,
assembled, or maintained by or for the City, and the City does not own or have the right of access to
Personal e-mails are not necessarily public records simply because they were written by a public
employee, even if during working hours or on a government-owned computer. E.g., Associated Press v.
Canterbury, 224 W.Va. 708, 688 S.E.2d 317 (2009) (collecting many cases); accord, Howell Education
Ass’n MEA/NEA v. Howell Board of Education, 287 Mich.App. 228, 789 N.W.2d 495 (2010); Tiberino
the content of employment policies and disclosures as to ownership of e-mails,
the subject matter of the e-mail itself,135
a host of similar factors depending on variable state laws.136
As just one example, in 2008, the Arkansas Democrat Gazette requested that the Little Rock
School District provide ongoing daily access to e-mail messages sent among school board
members, messages sent by the superintendent to one or more school board members, including
all daily and weekly updates, and messages sent by school board members to the superintendent
or other school district administrators.137
The newspaper proposed it be included in the list of
recipients when each message is sent. The Attorney General concluded that ongoing, continuing
or standing requests for records were not permitted but observed that e-mail exchanges could
constitute a meeting requiring notice and compliance with other open meeting requirements. In
2009, the Attorney General concluded that e-mails directed from one school official to another
(or others) that relate in some way to school matters so as to constitute a record of official
functions are discoverable as public records unless a specific exemption prevents their
State laws that do address e-mail and similar electronic communications often do so in
their definition of the term “meeting,” including such communications in the kinds of meetings
that can be governed by the law and thereby triggering notice, public access and similar
requirements. For example, Arizona provides that a meeting is “the gathering, in person or
through technological devices, of a quorum of members of a public body at which they discuss,
propose or take legal action, including any deliberations by a quorum with respect to such
This definition was amended in 2000 “to prohibit a quorum of a public body from
secretly communicating through technological devices, including, for example, facsimile
v. Spokane County, 103 Wash.App. 680, 13 P.3d 1104, 1108 (2000); Schill v. Wisconsin Rapids School
District, 327 Wis.2d 572, 786 N.W.2d 177 (2010).
Associated Press v. Canterbury, 224 W.Va. 708, 711, 688 S.E.2d 317, 320 (2009) (“a personal e-mail
communication by a public official or public employee, which does not relate to the conduct of the
public’s business, is not a public record subject to disclosure under FOIA”).
E.g., Cowles Publishing Co. v. Kootenai County Board of County Comm’rs, 144 Idaho 259, 159 P.3d
896 (2007); Kan.Op.Atty.Gen. 2002-1 (Jan. 3, 2002); State ex rel. Glasgow v. Jones, 119 OhioSt.3d 391,
894 N.E.2d 686, 691 (2008), following State ex rel. Wilson-Simmons v. Lake County Sheriff’s Dep’t, 82
OhioSt.3d 37, 42 & n.1, 693 N.E.2d 789, 793 & n.1 (1998) (e-mail message from public office e-mail
system can be a public record if it documents the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures,
operations, or other activities of the public office); O’Neill v. City of Shoreline, 170 Wash.2d 138, 240
P.3d 1149 (2010) (request to see e-mail did not inherently include a request to see metadata).
Ark.Op.Atty.Gen. 2008-055 (May 7, 2008).
Ark.Op.Atty.Gen. 2009-124 (Aug. 31, 2009).
Ariz.Rev.Stat. §38-431(1) (2013).
machines, telephones, texting, and e-mail.”140
The Arizona Attorney General detailed a variety
of ways in which e-mail could be used in violation of the law:
even though an e-mail may be exchanged from one Board member to another Board
member—a communication that does not result in a quorum—the e-mail could be
printed and copied and showed to a third Board member—a communication that does
result in a quorum.
An even greater risk is posed when e-mails are forwarded to other Board members,
sometimes by non-Board members who are also recipients of the e-mail.
The common practice of imbedding original e-mail messages and forwarding
messages to multiple persons presents an unusually high risk that the Board could
create a quorum without intending to do so.
Similarly, there is the risk of hitting the “wrong button” as Mr. Harrington did when
he inadvertently replied to all Board members in response to Mr. Bernstein’s
September 17, 2004 e-mail.
Finally, there is the risk of exchanging e-mail on a system where others may have
access. Dr. Harris testified that he believed that the college e-mail system was part of
the public domain and that anyone who had access to the college system could access
e-mail. If that is accurate, then a quorum of the Board could be established simply by
one Board member accessing two other Board members’ e-mail.141
The Arizona Attorney General provided another series of examples in a 2005 opinion,
identifying situations that would or would not present a violation:
a. E-mail discussions between less than a quorum of the members that are forwarded
to a quorum by a board member or at the direction of a board member would violate
b. If a staff member or a member of the public e-mails a quorum of members of the
public body, and there are no further e-mails among board members, there is no
c. Board member A on a five-member board may not e-mail board members B and C
on a particular subject within the scope of the board’s responsibilities and include
Arizona Attorney General, Agency Handbook, 7.5.2 (2012), at
http://www.azag.gov/Agency_Handbook/Ch7.pdf (visited July 22, 2013) (“Board members cannot use
email to circumvent the Open Meeting Law requirements”); see Ariz.Op.Atty.Gen. I05-004 (July 25,
2005) (“when members of the public body are parties to an exchange of e-mail communications that
involve discussions, deliberations, or taking legal action by a quorum of the public body concerning a
matter that may foreseeably come before the public body for action, the communications constitute a
meeting through technical devices under the Open Meeting Law”).
Arizona Attorney General, Yavapai Community College District Governing Board Open Meeting Law
Investigation Report, Findings, Conclusions and Recommendation at 18 (Mar. 23, 2005), at
law-attorney-general%E2%80%99s (visited July 22, 2013).